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Some in Taiwan See Parallels to Ukraine

todayFebruary 23, 2022 6

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, on Wednesday ordered the island’s armed forces and security personnel to step up surveillance and strengthen defenses as she sought to reassure those who see, in the Ukraine conflict, echoes of the self-governed territory’s own existential crisis.

Ms. Tsai’s instructions were delivered as a growing number of people within and outside the island are drawing parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan, a democratically ruled territory that Beijing claims as its own.

Though the comparison is not perfect, Taiwan, like Ukraine, has long lived in the shadow of a large and overbearing neighbor. Both China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have appealed to nostalgia for a glorious imperial past to justify their present-day territorial claims. Mr. Xi has intensified his warnings to Taiwan not to seek independence from China, just as Mr. Putin has barraged Ukraine with threats and demands.

“We empathize with Ukraine’s situation,” Ms. Tsai said late last month in announcing the creation of a task force to study the tensions in Ukraine.

During a meeting with the task force on Wednesday, Ms. Tsai condemned Russia for “encroaching on Ukraine’s sovereignty.” She noted, however, that Taiwan was fundamentally different from Ukraine in its geopolitical, economic and geographical conditions.

She called on her government to remain on high alert against what she described as “cognitive warfare” and disinformation efforts by foreign powers intent on using the tensions in Ukraine to stoke panic and instability in Taiwan.

While Beijing now regularly sends warplanes toward Taiwan, there is no sign that an invasion of the island is imminent. Rather, the concern among some analysts in Taiwan is that a distracted West or a weak response to a Russian invasion in Ukraine could embolden the ruling Chinese Communist Party to ramp up pressure on the island.

Others have pointed to the tensions in Ukraine to criticize Ms. Tsai, who has kept a distance from Beijing while simultaneously bolstering ties with the United States and other Western countries.

“The Ukraine outcome is right before our eyes,” Chao Chien-min, former deputy minister of Taiwan’s mainland affairs council, said at a conference on Tuesday, according to local news media reports. “Resisting China does not help protect Taiwan — it only accelerates our death.”

Beijing has sought to maintain a balancing act on Ukraine, calling for respect for nations’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, while also implicitly acknowledging Mr. Putin’s grievances.

It has made clear, however, that it sees Taiwan, which most countries do not recognize as a sovereign nation, as fundamentally different from Ukraine.

“Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, and the Taiwan issue is purely China’s internal affairs,” Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.

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